When Greg Kamerdze brews beer late at night, he wakes the dead.
Doors slam. Shadows dance. Footsteps echo down the hallways.
“I think they’re thirsty,” he says of the ghosts he thinks haunt the old building.
Located on Varley Street in the North Side’s Spring Hill neighborhood, for nearly a century the 15,000-square-foot behemoth housed the Workingmen’s Beneficial Union (WBU) social hall. Then it sat dormant for more than a decade. Now, thanks to new owners Bill Brittain and Natasha Dean, the property is home to an event space, an urban farm and Kamerdze’s Spring Hill Brewing.
The 36-year-old began making beer as a hobby, whipping up five-gallon batches in his Bloomfield kitchen. Once he decided that beer was his calling, Kamerdze, a long-time employee of big Burrito Full Service Catering, went on a brewery-hopping tour of the United States to help mold his business plan.
Now he operates on a 60-gallon system, often pulling all-nighters in the hilltop fortress to keep up with demand for his Belgian-style session ales.
“I wanted to do something that made people happy,” he says. “Beer makes people happy.”
When Spring Hill held a soft opening in April, visitors quaffed 15 kegs of beer in less than five hours. Since then, Kamerdze has been busy replenishing the supply.
During the grand opening on July 13, folks can try his flagship beers: Sunrise (light ale), Afternoon (mild farmhouse ale), Setting Sun (hoppy red ale), Dusk (Belgian nut brown ale) and Moonrise (farmhouse porter). There also will be a few experimental concoctions on tap.
The taproom will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 11 p.m. throughout the rest of the summer.
Kamerdze won’t fill growlers at the location, but he plans to sell bottle-conditioned ales and distribute kegs to nearby bars and restaurants.
A native of Pottsville, Pa., Kamerdze says he admires his hometown brewery, Yuengling. Much like Pittsburgh’s own Penn Brewery, the business thrives on quality and consistency. He wants Spring Hill to follow suit, offering sessionable ales that people can enjoy time and time again.
“I’m slightly obsessive about making beer taste the same from batch to batch,” he explains.
In addition to brewing beer, Kamerdze built Spring Hill’s bar and tabletops himself using wood salvaged from the WBU’s bowling alley. Damaged by time and the elements, that section of the building was gutted and transformed into an event space. A display case in the cavernous room features black-and-white photographs, handwritten notes, bowling balls, pins and shoes and other treasures discovered during the three-year, $200,000 renovation.
The building itself is a time capsule, which is why Brittain and Dean — who also own Shadyside Nursery — wanted to maintain its history and turn-of-the-century aesthetic. They plan to tackle the currently untouched upstairs ballroom in the near future.
Kamerdze is excited for customers to come and explore the facility. He’s hosting a pre-launch fundraiser on July 7 from 6 to 10 p.m. (tickets are $35). Guests will receive a special glass as well as a curated selection of Pennsylvania-made potato chips and pretzels. The Asado food truck will be there dishing out more substantial eats.
Folks unable to attend the party can donate on the brewery’s Indiegogo page. Kamerdze hopes to raise $15,000, which will allow him to hire more staff members and increase his liquid offerings.
“That’s what I love about this place,” he says. “There is so much room to expand.”